Former NBC West Coast topper Don Ohlmeyer is returning to his sports broadcasting roots, inking a two-year, seven-figure deal to serve as exec producer of ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”
Ohlmeyer cut his producing teeth on “MNF” in 1972-77, serving as producer of the broadcast for several seasons during the legendary era of announcers Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith.
In addition, ABC has sacked “MNF” commentator Boomer Esiason after just two seasons, with producer Ken Wolfe and director Craig Janoff also getting pinkslips. Pigskin franchise, which has suffered steady ratings erosion in recent years, will undergo a radical overhaul under Ohlmeyer.
ABC Sports prexy Howard Katz announced the changes late Tuesday. He did not say who would replace Esiason. Play-by-play announcer Al Michaels will remain with the broadcast.
Since assuming control of ABC Sports last year, Katz has been on a mission to restore the ABC Sports brand identity to its former glory. In the years following Disney’s purchase of the Alphabet web, execs had tried to turn the sports unit into an offshoot of Mouse-owned sports cabler ESPN.
Move to shake up “MNF” is seen as part of Katz’s overall campaign to move forward by getting back to basics.
In an interview with Daily Variety, Ohlmeyer said his job would be to make “MNF” a weekly big-ticket broadcast. “Can you make ‘Monday Night Football’ something that has more impact than just another football game?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t know, but that’s what the challenge is.”
Ohlmeyer declined to say who might get the Esiason gig or what other changes might be in the works. He did indicate his intent was not to simply go retro.
“We can’t bring Howard (Cossell) back from the grave,” he said, “and we can’t bring Don (Meredith) back from Santa Fe.”
“MNF” had its worst Nielsen numbers ever last season, averaging a 13.7 household rating, down a tad from the year before.
Sports industry analysts have already speculated that ABC may attempt to woo former Jets coach Bill Parcells or newly retired Jimmy Johnson into the broadcast booth. John Elway and Steve Young have also been mentioned as candidates.
ABC approached Ohlmeyer about returning late last year, but the ex-Peacock topper initially resisted. He ultimately came around, and a deal to bring him back was worked out relatively quickly, insiders said.